Faces of Equality in Tallahassee - Reflections of a Citizen Lobbyist
For two days each year, Equality Florida sponsors and implements Lobby Days in Tallahassee to bring legislative information on LGBT equality issues to individual state representatives and senators. This year I joined the over 45 volunteers and interns in an extensive two-day blitz of Florida’s Capitol. My vision of lobbying prior to this experience was the heavily moneyed K-street guys who grease the wheels of government with cash, women and wine. Not being able to offer any of the three I wondered what I could offer or if I could be effective as a public policy advocate.
My reasons for going to Equality Florida Lobby Days, February 6-7 mainly had to do with my recent appointment as chair of the Broward Steering Committee 2012 Gala. Last year the event raised over $260,000, a record-breaking amount and the most successful event for EQFL ever. I felt that the best way to ‘sell’ people on the work of Equality Florida would be to get in the trenches and be able to say I’ve seen the work first-hand. My other reason had to do with the frustration of writing letters, emails and speaking on the phone to local, state and federal elected officials and never feeling satisfied that my voice was heard. I wanted to come face to face with both supporters and opponents of equality and see and hear their reactions to presentations on legislation.
Walking into the Florida Senate chambers that Monday morning, I met the Equality Florida staff, volunteers and Equality Florida pubic policy interns as we took our seats at the Senator’s desks for the beginning of our training session. All ages, genders and gender expressions were represented from recent college graduates to retired men and women – truly a rainbow representation of our community. We were assigned into teams 3 or 4 men and women and given our packets of legislative information. I felt overwhelmed as I looked at the names of committees, names of minority and majority leaders of both houses, and the SB and HB (Senate Bill and House Bill) numbers to refer to. By Tuesday afternoon I had met face to face with 22 elected officials or legislative aides (16 Representatives and Senators; 6 legislative aides,) could roll off stats about both the Domestic Partnership Bill (HB 139 SB 166) and the Competitive Workplace Act HB 247 SB 340) and who their sponsors were. (Pretty impressive for a pre-dementia 61 year old)
What I will remember is not the bill numbers or statistics but the faces of the Equality Florida volunteers who passionately presented our case over and over again at 10 minute meetings, who never tired of the rejection, the long waits in outer offices, or the long sprints running from office to office in three huge buildings. They truly felt they were making a difference and by the faces of the legislators, I can tell you they were.
While the fate of both bills is still uncertain, there will be no doubt that our case was heard and with professionalism, passion and clarity. I will always remember the first time I ‘closed’ a session with a very reluctant legislator, looking him in the eye and saying we’d be back next year and the year after until this bill was passed. We saw the instant reaction in his or her eyes that ‘yes’ these people are not going away; ever. That followed with a nervous swallow and a courteous good-bye. That will stay with me forever.
For those of you who have thought about going to Lobby Days but never found the time or thought the drive to Tallahassee was too long, I say to you this; What can you do in your life to be a witness to history, make a difference and meet wonderful like-minded motivated people? Anyone need a ride next year? Call me!
2012 Equality Florida Gala Steering Committee Chair